Bell man arrested, charged with
By Carrie A. Mizell
Phillip Eugene Cooper, 51, of Bell is being held at the Gilchrist County Jail on a $100,000 bond after being arrested and charged with vehicular homicide.
Cooper was arrested after an investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol revealed that he was under the influence of two illegal prescription drugs the night he crashed his van into another vehicle killing the driver of the other vehicle.
According to Investigator Lena Ward of the Florida Highway Patrol, the accident occurred on February 3, 2010 at 8:20 p.m. as a result of Cooper’s reckless driving.
Cooper was reportedly driving a 2006 Ford E250 cargo van south on US 129 just five miles north of Bell. Ward indicated that Cooper was driving a minimum of 76 to 80 mph in a 60 mph zone when he crashed into the back of a 1997 Chevrolet Blazer driven by Elpidio Gonzalez-Rosales, 47, of Bell.
According to Investigator Ward, reconstruction calculations performed from measurements obtained on scene indicate that there was only 17-feet of pre-crash braking, or avoidance evident.
“The area of US 129 where the crash occurred is a straight and level roadway with no visual obstructions that would have contributed to the crash,” Investigator Ward stated. “Although it was dark at the time of this crash, with no artificial lighting in the area, the defendant [Cooper] described in great detail observing brake and tail lights on the SUV he was overtaking prior to the crash, during a sworn Mirandized interview obtained on the scene.”
Investigator Ward went on to state in her report, “The defendant [Cooper] specifically explained how he first noticed the SUV approximately 200 to 400 feet in front of him when he saw brake lights illuminate on the SUV. The defendant [Cooper] further stated that he observed tail lights on the SUV and could tell that the SUV’s headlights were also illuminated. The defendant [Cooper] explained observing the SUV’s brake lights illuminate briefly at least twice and said he thought the SUV was going to pull over or make a turn, but it did not. Yet with all his admitted detailed warning to the SUV he was overtaking at a high rate of speed, the defendant failed to react and drove his van into the rear of the SUV while traveling a minimum of 16 to 20 mph over the posted speed limit.”
Cooper’s van struck the rear of Gonzalez-Rosales’ Blazer causing it to go off the west shoulder of the road and strike a tree. Extensive damage was done to the front of the vehicle, so much so that Gilchrist County Fire Rescue had to extricate Gonzalez-Rosales from the wreckage. He was later taken to Shands Hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
While there was no indication of Cooper’s impairment on scene, Investigator Ward stated that toxicology reports indicated the presence of both Alprazolam and Oxycodone in Cooper’s system at the time of the wreck.
According to Dr. Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida Diagnostic Reference Laboratories, both of these medications were within a high range of therapeutic levels. Cooper could not provide any proof of having a current prescription for either drug.
Cooper is scheduled to appear before Circuit Judge Mark Moseley on December 16.